It was the winter of 2013, and I was the last of my siblings still living at home. So when my parents agreed to participate in the first CROSS Conference, I tagged along for what would be a much colder Christmas season than we were used to.
We’d been living in Dubai since I was four years old, surrounded by a little bit of ocean and a lot of desert. Life in the Middle East was normal to me—it was all I knew. My dad ministered to university students in the region, and I spent my entire childhood surrounded by people from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, many of whom were reading the Bible for the first time and joyfully giving their lives to Jesus despite the persecution to come. I never thought twice about attending church with people from all over the world—India, Nigeria, South Africa, Philippines, Lebanon—who stood shoulder-to-shoulder and joined their voices in worship.
And yet, when I arrived at CROSS Conference in 2013, I wasn’t a Christian.
My parents had helped me understand that their faith in Jesus wasn’t something I could inherit from them. I needed to make a decision about Jesus for myself. I knew the Bible, I knew that I was a sinner, and I knew a lot about who God was. But I was still living in rebellion against him. I saw the Christians around me overflow with a unique joy and delight in knowing Jesus Christ, and I deeply envied that. I desperately wanted a taste of their joy. And yet, a personal relationship with God just wasn’t worth it to me. However, in my heart, I continued to justify my distance from the Lord with weak reasoning: I’m just not ready. It’s too much of a commitment.
But the plain truth was simple: I loved living for myself and wasn’t willing to give it up.
While at CROSS 2013, I heard testimonies of individuals and families who put aside every earthly comfort to uproot their lives and go to the nations for the sake of sharing the gospel and making Christ known. Some of these individuals were family friends sharing familiar stories, so I was surprised how deeply moved I was. Stepping outside the normalcy of life in Dubai, I saw with God’s help the power and significance that Jesus Christ had in people’s lives—my parents and community included. I wondered, “Why is Jesus Christ so worthwhile to them? Why do they hold the gospel so dearly that they would be willing to sacrifice for it?”
For so long, I considered myself “lukewarm”—but not opposed—to the idea of a relationship with God. Hearing these stories afresh and seeing students fervently worship the Lord together while I stood by made me realize that I was dead in my sin, blinded by my love for myself, and cold to God. For the first time in my life, the burden of my rebellion against God became overwhelming.
During the final session of the conference, David Platt spent the majority of his sermon simply reciting the first eight chapters of the book of Romans. I expected to struggle to pay attention. But to my surprise, I couldn’t ignore the repeated words and phrases. They jumped off the pages of my Bible. So I leaned in. I listened even more intently. And it was in this moment that the Lord, through his Word, lifted the veil from my face and completely opened my eyes to the truth of the gospel—the truth that salvation is offered to us,
undeserving and guilty sinners, as a free gift from a holy God.
Romans 3:23–25 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s only because of God’s mercy that we don’t receive the wrath our sins deserve, and it’s only because of his grace that we do receive the righteousness of Christ.
As I sat there contemplating the truths I had just heard, I was completely overwhelmed: How could I repay God for this free gift that he has so generously offered me? I knew I couldn’t. But I could run away from my sin, run to the good Father, and cling to him forever.
And so I did that same evening. Jesus Christ is now my greatest joy and treasure!